Quietly, even stealthily, the Reston Community Center is moving ahead with its plan to build a financially unsustainable recreation center at Baron Cameron Park (BCP) for fewer than 2,000 users—no more than half of whom would be Restonians—paid for by Restonians as part of the Park Authority’s “master plan” for BCP. No doubt RCC’s ongoing efforts meet the minimal legal requirements for public disclosure, but the process—generally free of active public involvement--continues to be as opaque as the law allows.
As the BOG’s minutes reflect, the BOG received briefings on the planned recreation center by its consultant and its BOG Building Committee to justify moving ahead and placing the rec center in Baron Cameron Park.
In October, Vicky Wingert, chairperson for the all-BOG member “Building Committee,” reported to the BOG that the site the BOG had originally chosen for locating a new Reston Recreation Center—Baron Cameron Park—was its preferred location for siting the new center. A subset of the same group that decided BCP was the best location a year earlier decided that it is best again! What a surprise!
The BOG Building Committee recommendation comes despite the fact that the Reston Master Plan Task Force has proposed that any new recreation center be located on Park Authority-owned land in North Reston Town Center (west of the Spectrum Center). The draft Reston master plan now before the Planning Commission would allow more than 18,000 new residents in North Town Center—which would create a huge demand for a nearby recreation center within easy walking distance. On the other hand, the BCP location would serve little more than 2,000 new residents in the redeveloped Lake Anne when fully built out. Which location makes more sense to you in an urbanizing community? The BOG accepted the BOG Building Committee report at its November 4, 2013, meeting. Apparently, the County-administered RCC thinks it needs a rec center at FCPA’s BCP site to incentivize Lake Anne redevelopment at the expense of all Restonians.
On October 28, Brailsford & Dunlavey (B&D) came forward again with an update of its update of its market and financial analysis of a new Reston rec center for the RCC’s Long Range Planning Committee. The update largely undermined any reasonable argument for building a new recreation center in Reston, especially at BCP.
· Its first key market finding: Convenient location—as in “location, location, location”—is the most important criterion in the success of a recreation center. 93% of B&D’s survey respondents rated “convenient location” as “very important/important” to the success of a recreation center. (See p.11.) In short, this finding argues against the site recommended by the BOG Building Committee report.
The second key market finding: The “potential” market (the broadest measure of usage) for the recreation center—Restonians and others--is very small at 1,500-1,700 people given the large number of private recreation centers available in Reston. (See p. 21.) And only about 1/3 to ½ of those users would be Restonians, according to RCA’s Spring 2013 analysis of B&D’s market data. (See p. 20.) It is astounding that the BOG would even consider building a non-essential public recreation facility for fewer than 2,000 people—less than half of whom would be from Reston—to be paid for largely by taxes on Reston property owners.
· The B&D presentation also highlights that there is “More pressure to develop financially stable operations” and a “Mandate to achieve break-even operations.” (See p. 7). In this context, “financially stable” and “break-even” mean recovering only operating costs, not the full costs (most notably capital costs) of the construction, operation, and maintenance of a recreation center.
- The presentation highlights that an unidentified “regional recreation center” (with 110,000 SF) is recovering about 94% of its operating costs.
- As reported in RCA’s analysis of the feasibility of a Reston recreation center last spring (p. 21), B&D data in its 2009 “final” report showed that four major Fairfax County recreation centers had operational expense recovery rates averaging 114%--well over operational expense breakeven.
- Still, B&D’s analysis of operational cost recovery for a new Reston recreation center would peak out at 50% in the fourth year of operation using the extremely tax-subsidized “Reston Rate Structure” and would only reach 71% in the third year of operation using the ”Fairfax Rate Structure.” (See pp. 32-33.) These results are virtually identical to the results in B&D’s update report in June this year.
These recovery rates do not include the major tax-funded capital costs—bond payments and other capital equipment charges—that would go with building and maintaining a new recreation center. B&D projects the cost of construction at $35-$40 million for an 87,600 SF rec center in this latest presentation. A 20-year County bond at 2.5% interest would mean Reston taxpayers would need to pay on the order of $3.5 million per year to cover bond payments. We frankly expect the actual building cost and the interest rate will both be higher, adding to the Reston taxpayer burden. And that doesn’t include the 29%-50% of the operating expenses—between $500,000-$900,000 per year—that are not recovered through recreation center’s user fees of one kind or another. To serve the 1,500-1,700 users of the proposed recreation center—no more than half of whom would be from Reston—the County would pay likely need to raise the STD#5 property tax rate on Restonians from $.047/$100 valuation to $.075/$100 valuation, an increase of nearly 60%, when the recreation center is built.
In short, B&D’s most recent market analysis does not support a self-sustaining Reston recreation center for fewer than 2,000 users, half or less of whom would be from Reston, AND would promise a major increase in Restonians’ real estate property taxes. Of course, B&D didn’t present this adverse conclusion to the BOG, but that is where the data points when the bits and pieces are tied together.
Despite the highly negative B&D report, County officials say that shortly after the BOG accepted its Building Committee’s report, RCC sent a letter to the Park Authority asking to work together on building a recreation center in Baron Cameron Park paid for by Restonians as part of the new Baron Cameron Park master plan. As of the date of this posting, you will not find that letter nor any public notification of the RCC request on either the RCC or the FCPA website. No reason to bother the people who will be paying for this misuse of public funds.
It goes virtually without saying that RCC Board of Governor’s actions ignore virtually every analytical point, unanswered question, and suggestion RCA laid out its analysis of the Reston recreation center proposal last spring.
We anticipate that the plans for the referendum and the budget to support it will be finalized by the BOG at its two-day “Strategic Planning Session” offsite at Frying Pan Park on January 3-4, 2014. At least this time the offsite is in Fairfax County, not at Airlie House near Warrenton where this plot was hatched a year ago. The meeting is open to the public and we urge you to attend. In principle at least, the full agenda for the meeting should be publicly provided in a timely manner so you may be able to focus the time of your attendance when the proposed recreation center will be discussed—and possibly some time allocated for public input.